Everyone once in awhile as I’m on my travelin’ way through countries and cities I’d only ever dreamed of visiting and sometimes never heard of I’m confronted with an embarrassing truth. Americans are the worst tourists. Ever.
I’ve gotten used to feeling like a pelican among a flock of doves, but when I hear a fellow American loudly complain I shudder in horror. I can’t flee the latest crime scene of Americanism fast enough. I feel disheartened to know we share the same home country and the same accent. Ss my fellow Americans make it clear they are less than pleased with how things are done in country that is NOT America, I feel as though all eyes turn to me.
“Why don’t you ask him to shut up? What’s wrong with Americans? Why are you so loud, rude and obnoxious?” I can feel the crowd wondering as they gaze at me hoping their ignorance of the angry shouting person will shut them down.
My most recent encounter with American Tourist X gave me cause to reflect on just what Americans can do to avoid the embarrassment of being the tourist everyone loves to hate.
1. Shut the fuck up
I know this is shocking, but you are in a foreign country. So things are going to be, I don’t know, foreign. Generally this means things will be different than what you are used to. Conversely things can also be surprisingly similar. If you aren’t already aware the rest of the world is not a black hole, so stop commenting on how awful or awesome everything is. The world is the way it is, just sit quietly and soak it in.
2. Stop complaining
Most often loudness seems to accompany whining. Just stop. Remember what Thumper says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say nothin’ at all.” That’s right! A damn rabbit knows better than you do. Be polite to your host country, no matter how rough your travel day is please keep your complaints to a minimum and at a quiet decible. Indoor voices are still in style even if you are an adult.
3. Ask intelligent questions
Do some research, ask questions that people are happy to answer, instead of frustrated to answer. It seems most people are happy to help a visitor understand their country, but make some effort. Try to understand that their country, culture and language are different. If you have basic understanding of the world you are walking in, you can only gain a deeper appreciation for the places you go, the people you meet and the things you see.
4. Stop acting like the world should really care what you are thinking every .2 seconds
Weird thing about Asia, for most people English is their second or third language. All that talking loudly–complaining, praising or otherwise–is bound to be understood by a surprising number of people. I’m just going to guess they are much more concerned about their lives than your travels.
Please keep your thinking outloud to a minimum or reserve it for your companions, the entire tour group, bus or subway does not need to know what’s going through your brain every moment.
5. Stop judging
For god’s sake stop judging everyone and everything. Most Koreans speak English as a second language and even if they don’t it’s generally clear from your tone and body language that there is no way Korea will ever be as good as America. Save the judgment calls when you are in the comfort of your own armchair, not for when you are asking directions to the nearest hotel.
There are some positives and negatives in every country the world over. The world isn’t perfect. You will find things that upset you and things that amaze you, but as you are traveling through a foreign land it’s wise to keep your opinions about the good, the bad and the ugly to yourself and a few friends.
Finally when you are traveling, think like Aristotle and remember the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”
Remember that summer you worked in a shit-hole restaurant serving ungrateful tourists who treated you like crap? Oh wait. It wasn’t the tourists? It was the high school kids? Yeah, don’t be that person. Stop acting like a whiny, self-absorbed teenager when you travel and act like a goddamn adult.
Be polite. Be quiet. Show respect for the culture, country and people you are visiting so that when they visit your country, you don’t have to deal with asshats on cell phones shouting about how small and dirty people are.
Hopefully most of you are wonderfully nice people who never have an off day and generally treat the country you are visiting just as nicely as you treat your homeland.